Sweet

- 1950-

        Linda,
said my mother when the buildings fell,

before, you understand, we knew a thing
        about the reasons or the ways
       
        and means,
while we were still dumbfounded, still

bereft of likely narratives, we cannot
        continue to live in a world where we

        have so much
and other people have so little.

Sweet, he said.
        Your mother’s wrong but sweet, the world

        has never self-corrected,
you Americans break my heart.

Our possum—she must be hungry or
        she wouldn’t venture out in so

        much daylight—has found
a way to maneuver on top of the snow.

Thin crust. Sometimes her foot breaks through.
        The edge

        of the woods for safety or
for safety’s hopeful look-alike. Di-

delphis, “double-wombed,” which is
        to say, our one marsupial:

        the shelter then
the early birth, then shelter perforce again.

Virginiana for the place. The place
        for a queen

        supposed to have her maidenhead.
He was clever.

He had moved among the powerful.
        Our possum—possessed

        of thirteen teats, or so
my book informs me, quite a ready-made

republic—guides
        her blind and all-but-embryonic

        young to their pouch
by licking a path from the birth canal.

Resourceful, no? Requiring
        commendable limberness, as does

        the part I’ve seen, the part
where she ferries the juveniles on her back.

Another pair of eyes above
        her shoulder. Sweet. The place

        construed as yet-to-be-written-upon-
by-us.

And many lost. As when
        their numbers exceed the sources of milk

        or when the weaker ones fall
by the wayside. There are

principles at work, no doubt:
        beholding a world of harm, the mind

        will apprehend some bringer-of-harm,
some cause, or course,

that might have been otherwise, had we possessed
        the wit to see.

        Or ruthlessness. Or what? Or heart.
My mother’s mistake, if that’s

the best the world-as-we’ve-made-it
        can make of her, hasn’t

        much altered with better advice. It’s
wholly premise, rather like the crusted snow.

More by Linda Gregerson

Narrow Flame

Dark still. Twelve degrees below freezing. 
            Tremor along
      the elegant, injured right front

leg of the gelding on the cross-ties. Kneeling 
            girl.
      The undersong of waters as she bathes

the leg in yet more cold. [tongue is broken] 
            [god to me]
      Her hair the color of winter wheat.

Bicameral

1

Choose any angle you like, she said,
the world is split in two. On one side, health

and dumb good luck (or money, which can pass
for both), and elsewhere . . . well,

they're eight days from the nearest town,
the parents are frightened, they think it's their fault,

the child isn't able to suck. A thing
so easily mended, provided

you have the means. I've always thought it was
odd, this part (my nursing school

embryology), this cleft in the world
that has to happen and has to heal. At first

the first division, then the flood of them, then
the migratory plates that make a palate when

they meet (and meeting, divide
the chambers, food

from air). The suture through which (the upper
lip) we face the world. It falls

a little short sometimes, as courage does.
Bolivia once, in May (I'd volunteer

on my vacations), and the boy was nine.
I know the world has harsher

things, there wasn't a war, there wasn't
malice, I know, but this one

broke me down. They brought him in
with a bag on his head. It was

burlap, I think, or sisal. Jute.
They hadn't so much as cut eyeholes.


2
(Magdalena Abakanowicz)

Because the outer layer (mostly copper
with a bit of zinc) is good for speed

but does too little damage (what
is cleaner in the muzzle—you've begun

to understand—is also cleaner in
the flesh), the British at Dum Dum (Calcutta) devised

an "open nose," through which
the leaden core, on impact, greatly

expands (the lead being softer). Hence
the name. And common enough in Warsaw

decades later (it was 1943), despite
some efforts in The Hague. I don't

remember all of it, he wasn't even German,
but my mother's arm—

that capable arm—was severed at
the shoulder, made (a single

shot) a strange thing altogether.
Meat. I haven't been able since

to think the other way is normal, all
these arms and legs.

This living-in-the-body-but-not-of-it.


3

Sisal, lambswool, horsehair, hemp.
The weaver and her coat-of-manyharrowings.

If fiber found in situ, in
agave, say, the living cells that drink

and turn the sun to exoskeleton,
is taken from the body that

in part it constitutes (the
succulent or mammal and its ex-

quisite osmotics), is
then carded, cut, dissevered

in one fashion or another from
the family of origin, and

gathered on a loom,
the body it becomes will ever

bind it to the human and a trail
of woe. Or so

the garment argues. These
were hung as in an abattoir.

Immense (12 feet and more from upper
cables to the lowest hem). And vascular,

slit, with labial
protrusions, skeins of fabric like

intestines on the gallery floor.
And beautiful, you understand.

As though a tribe of intimates (the
coronary plexus, said the weaver) had

been summoned (even such
a thing the surgeon sometimes has

to stitch) to tell us, not unkindly, See,
the world you have to live in is

the world that you have made.

An Arbor

          1

The world's a world of trouble, your mother must
                    have told you
          that. Poison leaks into the basements

and tedium into the schools. The oak
                    is going the way
          of the elm in the upper Midwest—my cousin

earns a living by taking the dead ones
                    down.
          And Jason's alive yet, the fair-

haired child, his metal crib next
                     to my daughter's.
          Jason is nearly one year old but last

saw light five months ago and won't
                    see light again.

          2

Leaf against leaf without malice
                    or forethought,
          the manifold species of murmuring

harm. No harm intended, there never is.
                    The new
          inadequate software gets the reference librarian

fired. The maintenance crew turns off power one
                    weekend
          and Monday the lab is a morgue: fifty-four

rabbits and seventeen months of research.
                    Ignorance loves
          as ignorance does and always

holds high office.

          3

Jason had the misfortune to suffer misfortune
                    the third
          of July. July's the month of hospital ro-

tations; on holiday weekends the venerable
                    stay home.
          So when Jason lay blue and inert on the table

and couldn't be made to breathe for three-and-a-
                    quarter hours, 
          the staff were too green to let him go.

The household gods have abandoned us to the gods
                    of juris-
          prudence and suburban sprawl. The curve

of new tarmac, the municipal pool, 
                    the sky at work
          on the pock-marked river, fatuous sky,

the park where idling cars, mere yards
                    from the slide
          and the swingset, deal beautiful oblivion in nickel

bags: the admitting room and its stately drive,
                    possessed
          of the town's best view.

          4

And what's to become of the three-year-old brother?
                    When Jason was found
          face down near the dogdish—it takes

just a cupful of water to drown—
                    his brother stood still
          in the corner and said he was hungry

and said that it wasn't his fault.
                    No fault.
          The fault's in nature, who will

without system or explanation
                    make permanent
          havoc of little mistakes. A natural

mistake, the transient ill will we define
                    as the normal
          and trust to be inconsequent,

by nature's own abundance soon absorbed. 

          5

Oak wilt, it's called, the new disease.
                    Like any such
          contagion—hypocrisy in the conference room,

flattery in the hall—it works its mischief mostly
                    unremarked.
          The men on the links haven't noticed

yet. Their form is good. They're par.
                    The woman who's
          prospered from hating ideas loves causes

instead. A little shade, a little firewood.
                    I know
          a stand of oak on which my father's

earthly joy depends. We're slow
                    to cut our losses.